By Amber Marra - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The quest to satisfy a strong desire to learn about drinking fine wine and savoring gourmet food and cheese can lead enthusiasts to believe they must travel to exotic lands for an authentic experience.
In reality, their journey can end at Front Royal's Vino E Formaggio, a wine and cheese shop dedicated to exposing the region to specialty food and drink at affordable prices.
Now educating the masses about the store's abundant stock of more than 150 different types of wine will be more accessible with the addition of a new wine bar, or oenoteca.
"We've only been able to do quick two-minute demonstrations, so we needed more of a venue for food because most of the time you don't just sit down and drink a bottle," said Christian Failmezger, shop manager.
The family-owned business has grown 30 percent to 40 percent in the last 18 months, according to Failmezger, who has a law degree and was a sommelier, or wine steward, in several restaurants in Italy.
Failmezger says that "wine tells a story," and now so will his new bar, as it is constructed out of spare wood found throughout the interior of the building at 124 E. Main St.
Front Royal-based Hilton Construction used old doors and newel posts to give the bar an almost rustic feel from the recycled pieces of the vintage architecture.
An ancient telegraph box behind the bar even holds wine bottles that are thin enough to fit in its letter slots.
"The bar is very interesting and definitely unique, made out of white oak, red oak and pine that they had in the back of their shop. We told them it would look good all put together," said David Hilton, owner of Hilton Construction.
With the shop's growth in a slow economy, it will also begin serving food out of a new convection oven and steamer. Eventually, there will be one hot item offered on a menu that will change each day.
Though the boutique was closed for the first two weeks in January when the bar was still under construction, it is now open once again, with 62 percent of the bottles at $15 and under and 80 percent at $20 and under.
The wine should be flowing from the bar by mid-February.
"The emphasis will always be on the wine. ... We're just trying to demystify the whole thing because people tend to be afraid of wine and are nervous about the product," Failmezger said.
When the final products of a sit-down restaurant and bar area are complete and working together in the spring, Failmezger plans on having a grand opening featuring a 77-pound parmigiano reggiano.
Authenticity of all of the products in the shop is also of great importance to the Failmezger family, with all of the cheese stamped with the European Union's Protected Geographical Indication label to ensure it's all the real thing.
For example, if a customer wants to buy imbriago, meaning "drunken," cheese made with red wine in North Eastern Italy, Failmezger can point out the label to prove its genuineness.
The variety of features Vino E Formaggio plans to offer aren't the only part of the shop that has transformed in the past few months. Failmezger says most of his sales were to tourists in the shop's beginning and now 80 percent of his clientele is local.
"It has to do with the insistence of good quality beer and good quality wine," said Failmezger's father and building owner, Victor "Tory" Failmezger, indicating the shop's selection of 87 different kinds of beer.
In order to appeal to the differing pallets from customer to customer, Fail-mezger offers the simple advice of "drink lots, take notes," a task that shouldn't be too hard with the 30 or 40 cases he plans on ordering in the next month.
"One of my clients is very much a good ole' boy who has more Budweiser flowing through his veins than anything, and I still found a wine that he adores," the younger Failmezger said.